Contributed photo/Beverly Nañez
The Dalles cheer team heads to Anaheim, Calif. for the United Spirit Association Spirit Nationals from Feb. 23-25 at the Anaheim Convention Center, the program’s first trip since placing third overall in 2007. Coaches in lift are, from left to right, Meggan Erland, Alli Miles and Kelsey Wallace. The cheer members are, starting in the back row, from left, Shivani Patel, Jenifer Salinas, Giselle Schwartz, Stephanie Flores, Karla Hernandez, Samantha Stanley, Kendyl Kumm, Zaida Lopez and Jessika Nañez. In the front row are, from left, Anna Singhurst, Emma Koch, Jordyn Hattenhauer and Mackenzie Smith.
In the competitive cheer world, there is a thin line between winning and second place.
For a competitive cheer program that has won 12 state championships, a sixth-place outcome two weeks ago can be categorized as an anomaly.
Coach Kelsey Wallace called it a major disappointment, where Murphy’s Law kicked in, but more than anything she hopes her squad learned a valuable lesson.
Luckily, The Dalles cheerleaders have one last opportunity to show their heart and pride this weekend at the United Spirit Association Spirit Nationals at the Anaheim Convention center in Anaheim, Calif.
TD senior Shivani Patel said the team realized how much being proud of themselves and their routine is to everyone, which has changed the practice environment in a good way, as all 14 members have put their nose to the grindstone to get everything flowing ahead of performing on the big stage.
“The seniors in the past didn’t get the chance to redeem themselves, and seeing how we are getting this rare opportunity, it is definitely pushing this year’s seniors to do our very best,” Patel said. “We also want to take advantage of this opportunity. Not every team can say that they’re going to nationals in California. It is so amazing that we get this opportunity, and I know that the rest of the team is so ecstatic to make this an amazing experience.”
The Dalles is entered in the small intermediate show cheer division along with 27 other teams and will take the mat at 4 p.m. Friday. If they qualify for the finals, the team competes on Saturday.
Wallace plans to use the same routine with a little bit of tweaking, but by signing in on the intermediate side, some of the skills performed at state are considered illegal in the national event, so changes were made to a small portion of the stunt and pyramid section as well as the tumbling and crowd-leading sections.
The scoring will be similar to state, where majority of the teams have to be doing the same skill, and are judged on execution, crowd leading, voice, tumbling and jumps.
Another senior, Jessika Nañez, is thankful for the chance to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip with her teammates.
Instead of the usual pressures of a state performance, Nañez wants to instill a different approach.
“With nationals, I really tried to emphasize to the other girls that we are going to have fun,” Nañez said. “This is another chance to show everyone what we’re made of. This time, I think we’re a little more relaxed about performing though. I just want to go and have fun doing what I love to do with girls I like to be around.”
This weekend marks the first time The Dalles is making a nationals appearance since 2007, when Wallace was a key component on that cheer squad.
“I am really excited for the girls to get to experience this,” Wallace said. “We are very excited to have one more chance to compete before we are officially done for the year. I’m so glad, more than anything, that my seniors get one final performance. And all of the girls. They have worked so hard this season.”
While working through the regular season schedule, Wallace had visions of putting her team on display at nationals, so countless hours were spent fundraising enough for travel and hotel costs, entry fees and whatever else.
The goal amount seemed to be a longshot, but several individuals, The Dalles Booster Club, and businesses such as Maupin Stoves and Spas, The Dalles Grocery Outlet, Hattenhauer Distributing and Domino’s Pizza stepped up to the plate to make this dream a reality.
Many the cheerleaders’ family and friends also donated money through the team’s GoFundMe account.
“I’m so thankful for our community for supporting us so much,” Nañez said. “This trip would not be possible without their support.”
A handful of the cheer roster gets another shot at a state championship in the future, but for the veteran seniors, Patel, Nañez, Jenifer Salinas, Samantha Stanley and Kendyl Kumm, this is their last road trip, last weekend to bond with teammates, their last high school performance and the last time they don the crimson and gold Riverhawk uniform.
“No matter what happens, I’m extremely proud to be a part of this team and I’m so happy that the community has continued to support us through our journey,” Patel said. “We are ready to take on nationals and end the season on a good note.”